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A Florida hospital provides an online health curriculum to 450,000 students.

When Chris Stowers, vice president and executive director of the Arnold Palmer Medical Center Foundation, met with central Florida health teachers to announce that the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children was offering a health education curriculum to students, one teacher looked confused about the cost. Once Stowers finally convinced her that it was a gift, she turned and said, "I think I need to give Chris a hug."

It's not every day that a public school health coordinator hugs a hospital vice president. But it's also not every day that a hospital buys a health education curriculum and gives it to 677 public schools.

The Orlando, FL, hospital partnered with online health educator HealthTeacher to make its interactive healthy living program available to 450,000 students in central Florida starting last fall. "We take care of sick kids, so we have a responsibility as a community member and a community leader for children to reach out beyond the walls of the hospital," says Stowers. "If we can partner with the school districts to help kids get that base of knowledge and understanding of making healthy decisions, that's in our best interest as a hospital and in the kids' best interest."

The curriculum is available to all 29,000 public school teachers, from kindergarten through high school, in six school districts. The lessons are customized to align with the state's standards for health education and cover health, nutrition, mental health, family life, sexuality, and tobacco use.

The timeliness of the online program far exceeds each of the six school districts' previous health curriculums, one of which used a 17-year-old textbook, says Stowers. "If you think about how many additional resources are available that you can connect to through an online curriculum opposed to a printed textbook, the possibilities are almost endless. I think the online component is the reason it is so effective—it's not going to be out-of-date."

Stowers says Arnold Palmer cannot reveal the exact cost of providing the health program to hundreds of schools because of its agreement with HealthTeacher, an online health program, but the price fell in the six-figure range, he says. And because of the program's potential to prevent the prevalence of diseases like juvenile diabetes and obesity in local children, Stowers says hospital leaders are optimistic the initiative will yield a healthy return on investment.

"The cost savings is to us as a community, to us as a healthcare provider, as well as the individual's families," he says. "If we can help kids avoid something like that simply by physical activity and nutrition and good eating habits and hygiene and things like that, I think the return has potential much greater than the investment."

Marianne Aiello

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